Revisiting Tarab: Taking inspiration from Kamal Kassar’s renowned collection of classical Arabic music
“I cannot imagine appreciating music without sharing it. This is how I deal with my music addiction: collecting, copying and distributing my discoveries to people. Now that I manage the biggest collection of Middle Eastern Arabic music in the world, where I listen to great singers daily such as Youssef al-Manialawi, Abdel Hay Hilmi, Asma al-Kumsariya, Sami al Shawa and many others; my aim is to share it with the largest audience I can reach, through CD production and web radio. The web radio is the best way to reach music lovers everywhere and AMAR will co-produce this project with Sharjah Art Foundation. Our two foundations share many cultural values that would be translated into many long term projects.” - Kamal Kassar
Kamal Kassar is a Lebanese collector who owns the largest and most unique collection of classical Arabic music in the world, containing recordings from the Arabic Renaissance period (1903-1950). His interest in collecting music began when he came across rare classical Arabic records, which he has been preserving ever since. He created the AMAR Foundation (Arab Music Archiving & Research) to help preserve these rare music archives, which consist of records from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.
The preservation of his music collection includes the restoration and digitisation of the sound and its distribution. The collection consists of nearly 7000 discs and records (78rpm). Digitising music is a very restrictive protocol and the quality of the record must stay as faithful as it can to the original copy. Archiving also plays an important role through collecting as much information about the recordings as possible and documenting their historical backgrounds.
The AMAR Foundation will be collaborating with Sharjah Art Foundation to distribute classical Arabic music through a web radio and Kassar has reiterated the importance of the project in reviving a musical era that deserves more attention.
An evening of performances inspired by classical Arabic music and the archives of Kamal Kassar premiered last autumn in New York, commissioned by Performa with Sharjah Art Foundation. Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui conceived Visiting Tarab, for which international musicians who were part of the evening of performances were invited to Lebanon to familiarise themselves with Kassar’s collection. At first they were unfamiliar with the music, however, according to Kassar, they soon demonstrated an amazingly sharp perception. “We had sessions that lasted up to 8 hours a day, we listened to music and talked about it—the response was unbelievable, it’s great how music can be perceived. We categorised the music: urban, rural, instrumental, religious etc., and after hearing a wide range of music they made a list of what they wanted. Through this they then composed their own work using the archives as raw material for their compositions.”
Kassar has reinforced that his archives are open to all experiments. University-based researchers use material from his archives, as do DJs and electronic musicians. The AMAR Foundation’s main concern is to focus on classical Arabic music, to make people aware of it and to help them understand the classical way of conducting it. There is a difference between the way classical Arabic singers performed and the way contemporary Arabic singers perform today and therefore AMAR trains musicians in order to preserve the classical way of conducting and singing classical Arabic music.
Kassar’s collection will be part of Tarek Atoui’s Middle East premiere of Revisiting Tarab, an evening of performances produced by Sharjah Art Foundation. The event follows last autumn’s New York premiere of Atoui’s Visiting Tarab, which was a Performa Commission with Sharjah Art Foundation.
Conceived as a series of performances, the audience is welcome any time between 8:15pm and 2:00am on March 19, 2012.
Location: Calligraphy Square, Heritage Area, Heart of Sharjah